IN THE DIARY
How A Busy Couple Makes it Work in the Kitchen
We suck at planning and don’t want to take on the mental labour of preparing meals every day.
My partner and I moved in together at the beginning of lockdown in the UK. Before lockdown, we had been spending almost every day happily together so the decision came easy to us.
Our high level of compatibility proved to be crucial during challenging times, especially when we were home 24/7 with each other.
We’re lucky that we both have full-time jobs during the day while living in a house with separate rooms and a big garden. So, during the lockdown when we were both working from home, we had our own space and followed similar schedules that allowed for plenty of time spent together.
In July, my partner started to go back to the office and I remained at home—we adapted to all the Covid-19 changes quickly and are doing well generally.
The tricky part for us is our diet.
Our jobs are demanding and neither of us is a natural cook. We also suck at planning and don’t want to take on the mental labour of preparing meals every day. Personally, once I’m engrossed in my work, I can easily forget to eat, and cooking becomes a dreaded chore that does nothing good but disrupt my flow — I know it’s not healthy.
There was a period in August I experienced serious burnt-out and had to evaluate my priorities. I decided that I would put both mental and physical health at the top of my list, which meant making sure I take breaks and eat well.
Overall, from March till now, we have tried many different meal-planning methods and food delivery services to find what works the best for us as two full-time professionals who aren’t natural cooks (and don’t have a private chef). This article will share with you my personal experiences with UK companies such as Deliveroo, Qui chef, and Gousto (#not an ad).
What Didn’t Work
Here are a few methods that caused us massive wastes of energy and money.
My partner works 12 hours a day while I work from 9 to 5 for my day job and approximately 4 extra hours for my writing.
Usually, my partner and I would take turns in the kitchen. However, there was a period at the beginning of lockdown when I was really into cooking. At 5 in the afternoon, I would take a break from work to prepare these impressive meals for us. We then used the leftovers for lunch the next day. I kept that up for about… a week then, not surprisingly, I ran out of steam.
Cooking every day required too much time and effort for us and wasn’t sustainable. Soon enough, we started to skip meals, eat mindlessly, or get takeaways.
This leads us to the next point…
We were addicted to Deliveroo — yes, it’s that bad.
Once we got on it, oh, we were on it. We got breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks like chocolates delivered to our door. We were awfully lazy. We didn’t just order once a day; sometimes even a few times a day. Paper bags and cardboard boxes were everywhere.
Even though we got the subscription (i.e., no delivery fee for individual orders), the costs at the end of the month were a nightmare. We soon realised that Deliveroo marks up everything. A £5 burger in-store would become £7 on the app. We could easily spend £60 a day if not careful.
Weekly grocery delivery
In theory, this should save us time shopping during the week.
But the problem is, what I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted were two different stories. The meals I planned in my head when I ordered online weren’t what I wanted to eat when the time came. And whenever we opened the fridge looking at the raw food, we felt lazy and couldn’t find the time around our schedules to chop stuff up.
During this time, we also ordered some odd food boxes from a company called Qui Chef, a produce supply for… London restaurants. We didn’t get to choose the content or size of these boxes, so many things ended up being binned or given away to our relatives as we couldn’t use all of them. The fruits and vegetables were very good quality, though.
Feeling demotivated and overwhelmed, we picked up our old habits of getting takeaways or buying quick meals from supermarkets, which doubled our total food bills. It was a total fail.
As the lockdown restrictions were eased, we had a few more options such as having dinner at our parents’ house or going to the restaurants. Here are a few things that have worked out for us:
After reviewing our monthly spending, we had to ban Deliveroo.
Using Deliveroo wasn’t only expensive but also addictive and unhealthy for us. It gave us instant gratification but after the meals, we often felt uncomfortable and guilty as the food choices available weren’t nutritious.
We both deleted the Deliveroo app and avoided getting takeaways.
A combination of cooking, ready meals, and eating out
In August, as we quit takeaways, we started eating out more. We made use of the “Eat out to help out” scheme (about 20% discount) at local restaurants so the expenses ended up being cheaper than Deliveroo.
Since then, we’ve made a better effort to cook and make the most out of our kitchen time together — especially at the weekend.
For lunch, we use ready meals and oven food. For dinner, we cook simple recipes with protein, carb, and vegs. When we don’t feel like cooking or don’t have time, we go to a local Vietnamese restaurant — it’s like home food to me. Also, when we visit my partner's parents, they give us delicious food that could be easily microwaved for the next day.
We’re trying out recipe boxes from a company called Gousto. I was very excited about it so I took some pictures to show in this article for anyone who’s curious and might want to try.
Our first box had four recipes and was priced less than £25. I thought it was good value.
In the box, all the ingredients needed for each recipe were packaged nicely in little bags with clear labels. The recipes were printed colourfully on both sides with clear steps to follow. The portions were sizable enough to make us both full.
The only complaint I had was that the vegetables weren’t chopped. If they come chopped, I would give this company 5 stars.
It was fun to try out these recipes with my partner. It helped us bond and gave us an easy opportunity to win as a team.
Overall, I liked it. It definitely made cooking easier and less of a chore. It reduced the mental and physical efforts to buy, plan, and prepare food. It definitely works well with our strategy to cook at home and eat out now and then.
As long as I don’t have to think about it and just do it — and it turns out well, I’m happy.
In retrospect, the best way to make it work in the kitchen (or anywhere) is to do it with a partner who is highly compatible with you and willing to solve every problem as a team.
That’s how my partner and I could try all these different meal-prepping methods and have fun while doing so. In fact, it didn’t feel like a problem — it felt like a challenge that we were determined to overcome together. It was also an opportunity to get to know each other better and design a lifestyle that works for us both as a unit.
We try to stay away from instant gratification (takeaway apps) and move towards quality time spent together (cooking, eating out, and visiting parents) while minimising the effort required. Indeed, it’s our approach to other areas of our life as well.
We think Deliveroo is an excellent service but it’s too excellent for us — it makes us lazy and unhealthy. Qui Chef was unnecessary for a household of two, understandably. Grocery delivery saved time and money but required too much effort from our part.
For now, we have a positive feeling about Gousto and their business model. Recipe boxes do make the most sense for a busy working couple.